Sunday, June 1, 2014

Making a Game Out of Software Simulations

By Shelley A. Gable

I recently worked on a lengthy course that included a lot of software training. The intent of the training was not only to introduce learners to the software, but also to build fluency with several key tasks.

Of course, building fluency requires practice. So, one of the challenges with designing the training was figuring out how to provide the repetition needed to build fluency, without it feeling repeatedly boring for the learners.

To make it fun, we combined a handful of simulations into a web-based game.

Here are some of the elements we designed into the game…

Backstory. The game starts with a playful, fictional backstory, which provides a reason for needing to complete the selected tasks in the software quickly and accurately.

Missions (i.e., scenarios). For each task we needed to test learners on, we created a mission. The “mission” is basically the scenario for completing the task. A scenario that aligns with the game’s backstory. After getting through the backstory, learners encounter a menu of missions, which they can tackle in any order. To conquer the game, learners must conquer each mission.

In order to conquer a mission, learners complete the corresponding task within a specified amount of time and without exceeding an allowed number of mistakes (i.e., misclicks). We established the time limits by testing the missions with experienced users – we captured their times to complete the missions, and then we padded the times a bit to identify challenging yet attainable standards for learners who are new to the software.

Additionally, after completing the main part of a mission, the game invites learners to complete a “bonus” version of the mission. The bonus mission tests the same task, but with some added twist that makes it more advanced.

Feedback. Learners receive feedback after each mission attempt, based on their performance in that mission. The game presents the feedback in a way that fits the theme of the backstory.

Progress bar. The game includes a progress bar, which advances as learners complete missions successfully. The bar becomes progressively fancier as learners approach the end of the game.

Here’s how it’s working out so far…

Right now, learners complete the game independently, as an activity in classroom-based instructor-led training. Early feedback has been mostly positive. Learners enjoy the game, feel motivated to complete the missions, and engage in friendly competition with their classmates by comparing completion times by mission.

We anticipate working on another iteration of the game down the road, and we hope to find a way to incorporate a leader board to further foster friendly competition, especially if the game is eventually used by remote learners.

Have you enhanced a learning experience with games?

If so, how? What were the performance and instructional needs? How was a game able to help you meet those needs? And what were some of the components of your game?